Published June 30th, 2023 at 10:30 AM5 minute read
By Kevin Collison
Royals owner John Sherman says his club will choose a ballpark location by late summer, adding the delay in deciding between downtown and North Kansas City lies with other players involved who don’t share his team’s urgency.
“We’re waiting on a few people and we understand their reasons why they’re not as urgent as us,” he said Thursday.
“We think it’s important that we have sense of urgency about this. This is an important project and the time is now. I worry about getting bogged down in this process, slowing down and losing momentum.”
Sherman also said he expects the Chiefs will reveal their future plans for improving or replacing Arrowhead Stadium by the end of the summer as well.
His observation reinforced the fact neither team can move forward on new facilities without the other’s support because of their joint lease at the Truman Sports Complex. The Chiefs have been mum about their plans other than say they prefer to stay at Arrowhead.
“We’re tied at the hip with the Chiefs,” Sherman said. “Anything that we do before the end of the season in 2030, the Chiefs have to approve and anything they do we would have to consent to.
“I understand where the Chiefs are, I understand that our urgency was greater. Actually, I think, they appreciate us being out there taking a lot of the bullets for this process.”
In an hour-long press conference at the Hall of Fame space at Kauffman Field, Sherman also said Jackson County voters likely won’t vote on a sales tax extension needed to help finance both teams’ facility plans until April.
Regardless of what site is chosen, a new ballpark could be ready by the 2027 or 2028 season, he estimated.
Jackson County and Kansas City officials have been frustrated at the Royals process for choosing a site for what they describe would be a $2 billion project that would include a new ballpark and surrounding development.
The Royals first publicized their hunt for a new home for the team last December when they said 14 sites were being considered. From the beginning, many observers believed the East Village, an eight-block tract northeast of City Hall, had the inside track.
But the arrival of a financially powerful new player elevated North Kansas City to be a late contender.
The Merriman family of Financial Holding Corp., a major developer in the city, acquired an 85-acre site just south of North Kansas City’s downtown district and has made a strong play for the Royals ballpark along with Clay County officials.
Again, Sherman told reporters unspecified delays in the East Village process opened the door to North Kansas City.
“Because the process didn’t move along maybe at the pace some of us wanted, some people are creative up there (NKC),” Sherman said.
“They’re entrepreneurial and they’re willing to put capital at risk. There’s an idea up there that’s different from East Village. It’s certainly something that could work for the Kansas City Royals.”
As for Jackson County, Sherman said the Royals want to have the current 3/8th cent sales tax extended. It would generate an estimated $300- to $350 million for each team’s plan for new facilities.
“Our ask from them is clear, to extend the existing 3/8 cent sale tax thats being used today to maintain two aging buildings and to redeploy that capital to do something that’s very special that will have an immediate impact on Kanas City,” Sherman said.
Kansas City officials say privately the redevelopment plan also may need an estimated $200 million in infrastructure work to accommodate the ballpark project at the East Village, but so far have not received an official request from the Royals.
Sherman said he had spoken as recently as this week with both Mayor Quinton Lucas and County Executive Frank White. He also said he’s had discussions with Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons and other state officials about potential financial assistance.
He emphasized substantial private money also would be invested, saying the project would be the largest public-private investment in the history of Kansas City.
“It’s a $2 billion project, probably more with infrastructure,” Sherman said. “Whatever we get from the public, we’ll take care of the rest, a number well in excess of a billion dollars in private capital from ownership and partners.”
While Clay County also is in the fray, Sherman said discussions there aren’t nearly as far along.
“As it relates to Clay County, I make it clear they entered this process relatively recently. It’s a serious bid and a serious idea and one we’re taking very seriously. No one is waiting on us in this process.”
Sherman observed a potential North Kansas City ballpark redevelopment would be more spread out than the East Village. He also said it would likely require significantly more public infrastructure investment because it lacks the traffic capacity of downtown.
“If you look at Clay County it would be a different project, 85 acres vs 22 acres in the East Village,” he said. “The East Village is about making Loop more dense and going vertical.
“Clay is more horizontal. We’d still have commercial, residential, hotel, mixed use and entertainment, but it would not be as vertical obviously.”
In response to criticism a North Kansas City site that would be 3.5 miles away from the heart of downtown would be a significant shift from his original vision, Sherman indicated the East Village remains a strong choice.
“That concept of rounding out the central business district and going vertical with corporate offices, residences, hotels and some retail and mixed use, and green space make that a special part of downtown,” he said.
“There’s also opportunity in the Paseo West neighborhood when you think about Highway 71. That was the focus, if we end up in East Village that will be great.”
The club owner also said he’s heard complaints from some Royals fans about relocating the ballpark, period.
“What I say to people who say don’t move the stadium, ‘if we can’t make sure it’s easy to get in and out and that it’s safe, we’re not going take our fans anywhere without those things…’ but it’s time to leave The K.”
Returning to the Chiefs and the importance of their future plans, Sherman said polling done by the Royals indicates a sales tax extension vote would have a much stronger chance of success with both teams on the ballot.
“A simple extension of the sales tax for both teams is pretty overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “As you start to separate that, it becomes a little choppier because it’s more change and you haven’t come up with a bigger solution.”
Sherman also anticipates the current lease agreement with the Jackson County Sports Commission, which began when both professional teams occupied the Truman Sports Center in 1973, likely will end as part of process of developing new facilities.
“If we go to the East Village, these can be totally separate leases and might even have different termination dates depending on what the Chiefs do in terms of renovation vs build new, and the amount of capital they intend to spend,” he said.
A move to North Kansas City and Clay County also would necessitate separate leases for the teams.
While acknowledging the challenge of trying to sell the public on the idea of a new ballpark when the Royals are performing poorly this season, Sherman emphasized this would be a generational decision.
“This is the most important thing that we’ll have the opportunity to do while we have the privilege of being stewards of this franchise,” he said.
“We’re playing a long game here….This is a 50-year decision. We’re going to get that (team improvement) done but we’re also going to make sure its future is assured in Kansas City.”